Rare Book Monthly
Articles - February - 2007 Issue
<b>AE</b> Bibliographic Database Passes 1.5 Million Records
By Michael Stillman
The beginning of the new year marked a milestone here at the Americana Exchange. The crown jewel of our services, the Americana Exchange Bibliographic Database ("AED" for short), passed the 1.5 million record threshold. We are impressed by this achievement, as when the AE opened its doors in 2002, the database consisted of just 190,000 records. Of course a few readers, maybe even more than a few readers, may still be wondering "just what is the AE Database anyway?" We are glad you asked (even if you didn't). Hopefully, those of you who do not subscribe to the AED will read this article to see what it is, as someday you too may want to subscribe. There's nothing to lose by learning about it. That way, even if you choose not to subscribe, it will still be an educated decision.
Here, quickly then, is what it was and what it is today. The Americana Exchange Bibliographic Database was intended to be what the name suggests, a database of Americana bibliographies. It started with some of the most important of those, such as Sabin, Evans, Howes' USiana, and most of the very hard to find issues of the American Imprints Inventory. These are still in the AED, but the remaining 1,310,000 records cover a far more vast territory of collecting. We quickly outgrew the moniker "Americana," but once you choose a name, you are more or less stuck with it. Feel free to just call us "AE." That seems to work for "KFC" since they realized having "Fried" as a middle name wasn't such a good idea anymore.
What the AED is today is a collection of 1,500,000 records pertaining to books, manuscripts and ephemera. Some are from traditional bibliographies, but the great majority are now priced records, from auctions and classic booksellers' catalogues. "Priced" is the operative word here, because while standard bibliographies provide important information, the critical piece of data for many collectors and sellers is value. This is necessary data to buy and sell intelligently, yet it can be the most difficult piece of the puzzle to find.
Okay, I can hear some of you saying you can get your values from Abe. If it is a cheap, common title, you are probably right. If there are ten copies available on Abe for $1 each, you can readily estimate its value, confident that you are not off by more than a dollar. However, when it comes to collectible material, Abe pricing can be galaxies removed from reality, presuming the item is even offered on Abe. Often, the prices seen on Abe reflect what a book cannot be sold for, rather than what it can. That's why listings can stay there for an eternity. Anyone who relies on Abe pricing to price their own books for sale needs to be prepared to own them for a very long time. Anyone who relies on Abe pricing alone to purchase a valuable book is out of their mind.
At the heart of today's AED are auction records. The auction is the only true open market, the one place where the market determines a book's value. As anyone with a knowledge of elementary economics can attest, this is a book's monetary value, not some invented, possibly dreamland price pulled from thin air. If you want to know for what price a book is likely to sell in a reasonable amount of time, or what a rational price is to pay for one, there is no better guide than the auction. Sure you may be able to sell for more, you may be willing to pay more, but get too far out of line from the open market price and you are asking for heartbreak.